Foreign worker suggestions draw thumbs up

House of Commons committee recommends removing the rule that requires workers to leave Canada after four years

A federal committee, reviewing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, has made encouraging recommendations for Canada’s agriculture and food sectors.

The question now is whether the government will act on the committee’s report.

“There’s the million dollar question. Are they going to take these recommendations seriously or are they just going to say, you know what, we’re just going to leave it status quo,” said Mark Chambers, manager with Sunterra Farms, which operates hog farms in Ontario and Alberta.

“I believe they will do something and especially for agriculture.”

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) released its review of the TFWP Sept. 19. The committee made several suggestions to improve or amend the program:

  • Removal of what’s known as the four-and-four rule, in which foreigners can work in Canada for only a cumulative four years, and then must leave the country for four years before returning to Canada.
  • That Employment and Social Development Canada re-establish the TFWP into more specific program areas and streams for certain sectors of the economy.
  • Set the cap on the number of foreign workers a company can employ at 20 percent. However if a business or sector can prove a need, the cap should be flexible.

The former Conservative government amended the program in 2011 and 2014, including restrictions on the number of foreign workers that businesses could hire.

One key change was the amount of time that foreigners can remain in Canada. Now foreign workers for most jobs can stay in the country only two years: a one-year work permit plus a one-year extension. Previously, they could stay four years: a two-year permit plus a two-year extension.

Maple Leaf Foods and others in the meat sector said the time limit prevents foreign workers from becoming permanent residents because they don’t have enough time to learn English.

“They (the committee) clearly listened to what industry asked for, (that) people coming to Canada on the TFW program should be allowed to emigrate to this country,” said Mark Wales, former president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Wales expects the government to act quickly on the committee recommendations.

“What’s promising is both the Minister of Immigration, John McCallum, and Minister of Employment, Minister Mihychuk … they have promised they will enact changes … I think within 100 days,” he said. “That’s good. Because we need (changes).”

Primary agriculture was exempt from the 2014 changes to the TFWP, but the four-and-four rule was problematic for certain producers, particularly beekeepers.

The Canadian Honey Council has said the rule is ridiculous and damaging the beekeeping industry, which relies heavily on workers from the Philippines and other countries. It can take years to train a foreign worker or for that person to become competent in English. Forcing someone to leave, after they’ve become a skilled employee, makes no sense.

Rod Scarlett, Canadian Honey Council executive director, hopes the federal government acts soon on the committee recommendations because labour is the number one issue for beekeepers.

Chambers wants the government to create a program specifically for agriculture because labour needs are severe in the sector.

“We’ve been focusing on agriculture (and) that it needs to be taken out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” said Chambers, who with Wales co-chairs the Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force, a group of industry representatives.

“A stand-alone program dedicated to agriculture and agri-food…. They (the HUMA committee) kind of alluded to that through some of the recommendations.”

In March, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) published a report on the labour shortfall within primary agriculture. The labour gap, or lack of Canadians willing to work in agriculture jobs, is now at nearly 60,000 and is expected to reach 114,000 by 2025.

Chambers said the labour shortage is growing because Canadians are no longer willing to do dirty or unpleasant jobs.

“These are ag and agri-food jobs that people genuinely do not want,” he said. “Canadians don’t want to work in a meat plant and Canadians don’t want to work on a farm, or work with animals…. Our first pick is always Canadians but when you can’t find someone to do (a job) you need a solid, sustainable program that… is efficient and you don’t have to wait six months to get an employee.”

robert.arnason@producer.com

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Comments

  • Ted Bunce

    Canadians collect garbage and work in sewage plants. There are no jobs Canadians are not willing to do. But there are jobs that pay so poorly Canadians cannot afford to do them. This program only exists to keep wages down, well below the level Canadians can raise a family on.

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